Problems Part I


The road to urban homesteading ain’t smooth and involves more than a few potholes along the way. Some of those potholes will swallow a bike tire while others are big enough for a Hummer. But with persistence it becomes easier to deal with the occasional bump, lessons can be learned and future mistakes avoided. With the popularity of our earlier blunders post, I’d like to begin regularly sharing problems as they develop. Here’s problem #1 for this troublesome July:

A Sick Chicken

Our Araucana hen became listless and depressed over the weekend, just sitting around, avoiding food and not engaging in the usual hen chatter. She also stopped laying eggs. At first we thought she might be egg bound, a condition in which an egg becomes stuck on the way out the cloaca. Warm baths and lubricants (I’m going to resist a cheap joke here) ensued with no results. The thought of inserting a finger into the cloaca, or worse, attempting to break an egg seemed foolish for inexperienced chicken owners such as ourselves. As of today we can feel no swelling in the abdomen, or butt dragging, both signs of an egg-bound chicken.

We began to think that our ill tempered Rhode Island Red, who had pecked the Araucana pretty badly last week, may have caused an infection to develop. On Sunday we borrowed some antibiotics from a fellow backyard chicken keeper, specifically a product called Terramycin which we added to her drinking water. As of today she is substantially improved, but not completely back to normal. As a friend of ours who grew up on a farm says, “chickens are either on or off.” Once they get sick they often don’t come back “on”. We’ll hope for the best.

This problem brings to mind two lessons we’ve learned in the past year of backyard chicken keeping:

1. When you build your coop think about creating an isolation ward. A real farmer would just cull a sick bird to keep the flock safe. For those of us with just a few hens this is more difficult and it’s great to have a place to separate, at a distance, a sick bird just in case they have something communicable. It’s better to figure out how to configure this ahead of time rather than at 8 p.m. on a Sunday. Thankfully we’ve got a large dog pen for our Doberman that can double as a small chicken run. We’ve also got a small dog/cat crate that works well for bringing a chicken indoors at night to keep her warm.

2. Have medications on hand before you need them. A chicken first aid kit is a good idea. Here’s an article on what that kit should include. If our hen recovers we’ll have to follow up the Terramycin with a probiotic supplement to restore beneficial gut bacteria killed by the antibiotics. It would have been great to have these medications on hand rather than having to run to a feed store, rely on a friend, or pay to have them shipped overnight.

Stay tuned for July’s problem #2–an old friend–blossom end rot.

UPDATE: The Araucana (actually, probably a “Americana”) made a full recovery.

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16 Comments

  1. AGH! My Roma’s have blossom end rot! DH crushed up some Tums and mulched them in this morning (they are in pots), I really hope it helps. Can’t wait to hear what works for you!
    J

  2. I cannot tell you how great this article is. I’m trying to learn and read all I can about raising egg laying chickens before we get our own next spring. Thanks for this and the link for the 1st aid kit!

  3. Have you dusted for mites? I had some sick chickens a few years ago and they turned out to be infested with mites.

    Diatomaceous earth works well as do other “medicated” dusts.

    Another sign that they had mites was small dots of blood on the shells of eggs when they were still laying.

  4. I had a cockatiel that got egg bound, and the vet used a qtip with KY.

    Then he said do the warm bath thing, which was easy because that crazy bird enjoyed standing on my knee while I bathed; she did the crazy bird bath dance while on my knee, and I’d lower my knee until she was about halfway dunked. She really danced then!

    Oops, back to chickens. I’m still hoping to get some, and am thinking about cornish hens, so the hints in the comments are helpful in advance, thanks.

  5. When raising chickens you have to be prepared to put down a member of your flock, unless you plan to prolong the animal’s suffering and pay a vet bill.

    You also need to think ahead about how you will handle an unproductive bird that is not suffering.

  6. These “blunder” posts are the most educational, it sucks that you have to learn the hard way, but others can learn from your mistakes.

    Check my blog and you’ll see my latest dumb mistakes.

  7. I agree with Matthew–part of the reason that I have chickens is to get in touch with the cycles of life and death that one encounters on a farm. I’m sure there will be a time to cull a chicken, but this chicken’s time has not come yet. She’s on the mend and has a few productive years ahead of her (I hope).

  8. mnultraguy,

    There’s a couple of things it could be and I’m not the one to dispense veterinary advice. I’d recommend picking up a copy of Gail Damerow’s book The Chicken Health Handbook. It’s another thing that belongs in the chicken first aid kit.

  9. My Arucana was acting strange and stopped laying eggs about a week and a half ago. Turns out, she’s molting.

  10. Hope she’s happy and scratching around soon! Thanks for a very helpful post; that link to the chicken first aid page is a great resource.

  11. So while I’m far away from having my own urban homestead (here in NYC, I don’t even have a patch of dirt to call my own), I’ve been doing a lot of research on what I’d like to have. I’ve been reading a lot about guinea fowl, and they sort of seem like the perfect bird to raise–they can be let loose in the garden to eat, bugs, ticks, rodents and snake and they won’t touch the veggies, they are good watchdogs, and you can eat their eggs…. I wondered if you guys looked into guinea fowl and what your thoughts are… Thanks!

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